What’s up guys!
Summer is at the door, which means one thing - we’re shooting outdoors! Shooting outdoors requires one thing, understanding how natural light works for your style. In this blog entry, I’ll show 5 ways to take your natural light portraits to another level. Even some for your Iphone X photography!
Here they are.
(For the video version - scroll to the end of this video!)
Tip Number 1: Use a background that contrast with your subject
The issue you will face when making portraits with natural light portrait is that you cannot perfectly control the subjects light exposure versus the background. A way to fight that is to use the power of contrast to make your subject ‘pop’ in the environment.
A quick example here is if your subject has fair skin and hair like the model in this photo plus, if she is wearing mostly light clothing, placing her next to something dark like that green silo will help creating contrast separating the subject from the background creating a ‘pop’.
The opposite is also true, a subject with dark features or clothing on a light texture wall for example also is a great way to make the subject stand out.
The next tip will help you plan your shoot for a better natural light session.
Tip Number 2: Sun position, time of the day and weather conditions matters
These are not firm rules by any mean but shooting at noon on a clear day is more difficult that shooting an hour or two before sunset. When the sun is at zenith or high point, you tend to get those squinty looks from your subjects since the light is at its highest intensity making your portraits a bit more difficult to do. Depending where you live, plan your shoots 2 to 3 hours past zenith to get a more manageable natural light. If you absolutely have to shoot at noon/high sun, tip number 5 will definitely be of a big help so make sure to read the rest of this blog post!
What about the weather you are asking?
- Weather conditions will change the mood of your portrait session! If you are going for a moody, ethereal and desaturated look like the weather conditions in this image - a cloudy day will be perfect for your portrait session.
- A fun in between is cloudy with sun where the sky is textured by the clouds. It can make for an interesting look.
- Sunny days are awesome for those bright and saturated pictures.
The next tip will help you with your in camera settings
Tip Number 3: Shoot RAW
Recent cameras are AWESOME. The dynamic range that they offer is really amazing and can be advantageous when using natural light. Shooting in the native RAW format of your camera can save photos from unsunseable to actually decent. A trick that some photographers use to fully take advantage of the camera’s capabilities is called ‘file pushing’. ‘File pushing’ or also called ‘shoot to edit’ is still controversial in the photo world as purist then to want perfect exposure in camera.
Scroll to the next photo to see the power of RAW imaging.
So how do you ‘file push’ ? Let’s look at an example here where my flash didn’t fire but created an interesting window light situation. First set your camera to raw . Then during your portrait session, underexpose your portrait by ½ or a full stop (depending on the conditions). To make sure you are not going too far, Just make sure your histogram has a great spread. When you get to your editing station, import the raw into camera raw or your editing software.
There are 3 main sliders you can play with in Camera Raw to correct basic exposure
1) Exposure which will influence the entre image’s brightness
2) Shadows: Shadow slider in camera raw will recover underexposed shadows in your image.
3) Highlights: Highlights recovers areas of your images that or over exposed or near 255 as an RGB value.
If you want to dive in deeper in the subject, here is an interesting white paper by an engineer at Adobe. Play around with those sliders until you find something you like and voilà! You now have a decent image to edit.
Next tip is one of the best tips for portraits you can find.
Tip Number 4: Window light is your best friend
What is better than those big frosty window light? Window light is a wrapping soft light that helped the career of many many photographers. If I see a window, I try to see if there is something interesting there. Want to make that natural light extra soft for your portrait session? Add window sheers to soften the light if the sun is blazing that day or for mood.
For a fill, add a v-flat in the opposite side of the subject to raise the shadows or use it as a solid background if whatever is behind your subject is boring or ugly.
For the last tip - we’ll present 2 inexpensive tools to use during your natural light portraiture.
Final Tip Number 5: Reflectors and scrims are your friend
If your session is at noon on a sunny day and the time cannot be moved, scrims and reflectors will be tremendously helpful! There are solutions other than flash.
First are scrims. Scrims are simply a diffusion fabric that softens any light, may it be the sun or flash. Typical scrims are called ‘Scrim Jim’ and sold by many companies or can be made at home. You can use a lot of different material to behave like a scrim such as Cotton or even shower curtains in a pinch. Placing the scrim will soften the light on your subject’s skin helping achieve that dreamy/foggy look that is so sought-after.
To boot, people with blue or pale eyes will tell you, that sunlight is difficult to deal with since they are much more sensitive to intense light. Placing a scrim on top of them to shield them from that harsh light will soften the light for your camera plus help those subjects with pale eye color.
Note: Scrims can be a pain on high windy days since they act like a sail, having an assistant and a bunch of sandbags here will be useful. In the video below, as you can see, I tried (miserably) to do it myself and it wasn’t pleasant.
Reflectors are a great way to control the light in most situations and EVERY photographer should own a 5-in-1 reflector. Regardless of your style, natural light photographer or strobist, Reflectors are a key tool to use the sun as a means to either illuminate your subject or raise shadows. The different colors in the 5-in-1 (silver, gold, white or negative fill or scrim) (Insert staccato shots of reflector in use) will bounce light to create different highlights. Simply walk around your subject to find the best angle with the reflector. An assistant here is also really helpful.
Cheers, happy shooting and good luck!